The Olympics: weird sports of yesteryear and what's to come

Our sports editors uncover some of the strangest Olympic sports, as well as some unexpected 2020 additions.

Sydney Isaacs
11th March 2019
Image- Pexels

The Olympics- a period over the summer where boredom can be alleviated by watching one of a myriad of different sports, some of which you will have never watched before and will probably never watch again. To celebrate this sporting menagerie, our sports editors delve into the past to discuss some of the strangest Olympic sports, as well as reviewing some unexpected additions for the 2020 games.

The Arts – Rebecca Johnson

When you think of the Olympic Games, what springs to mind? Athletics? Swimming? Rowing? Literature?

Admittedly the latter probably isn’t the most commonly thought of Olympic Sport. However, up until the 1948 Olympics in London, the arts were considered to be an integral part of the Olympic Games. Categories included: architecture, sculpture, literature, music and painting. In order to be considered for a medal, these categories had to have some relationship with the Olympic concept.

Architecture made its debut at the 1912 Stockholm Games with Swiss duo Eugene- Edouard Monod and Alphonse Laverriere scooping the first ever gold medal for their town-planning project linked with the Games.

Literature was a complex category within the Games. All entries had a 20,000 word limit and was divided into a range of sub sections including dramatic works, epic poetry and lyrical works.

Painting was also another diverse category. This was split into paintings, prints and watercolours/drawings. The 1936 Olympics in Nazi Germany saw this particular area being used as a propaganda tool, with five of the nine medals being awarded to Germany, whereas they’d only won one in the previous two Games.

The introduction of the arts allowed for participants to compete in two disciplines. For example, Walter W. Winans won Olympic medals in shooting in 1908 and 1912. Winans then went on to win Olympic gold in sculpture, “An American Trotter”, which was essentially a sculpture of a bloke riding a horse (to be honest I am a sport editor- cut me some slack if I don’t get the deeper meaning of this art- if there is one).

The arts is a category that I’d personally love to see reintroduced into the Olympic circuit. You can bet that I’d absolutely pay money to see Jason Kenny do the cycling sprint whilst reciting a poem of his own works. I’d love to see Dina Asher-Smith finish her 200m sprint then jog along to finish off a painting. The campaign starts here, let’s get the arts back on track.

Roller Hockey- Rory Ewart

Roller hockey, not to be mixed up with its winter cousin Ice Hockey, was introduced in the Barcelona 1992 Olympics as a demonstration sport with the rules being the exact same as its ice equivalent.

The timing of this being introduced into the Olympics was unsurprising, due to its widespread popularity in Spain already, with teams in the Catalonia region of Spain being particularly enthusiastic toward the sport, leading to the Organizing Committee to select the sport for the games.

The sport only consisted of a single event for men’s teams, with a total of 12 nations entered to participate. Pre-tournament favourites included hosts Spain, Argentina, Italy and Portugal, the latter of which were the 1991 Rink Hockey World Champions, quite the feat.

The preliminary rounds of the tournament saw two groups of six compete against one and other, with the top three teams from each qualifying for the semi-final league. Home advantage saw the Spanish outfit come away with a perfect record, a perfect five wins from five, 45 goals scored, just four conceded, La Furia Roja had shown face on the big stage.

The four early favourites, as well as Brazil and the Netherlands each progressed into the semi-final table, with the top two sides from this reaching the gold medal match, and third and fourth competing for the bronze medal.

Spain once again dominated, winning all but one game, drawing the other, averaging an impressive four goals per game; they were lined up to play Argentina in the final. Meanwhile, World Champions Portugal was forced to settle for a bronze medal play-off against the Netherland, with the Italians winning this to claim bronze.

The gold medal game resulted into a 14-goal thriller, which culminated in Argentina completing a shock victory against the clear favourites Spain to win the gold medal.

A home upset may have put a grey cloud over the final proceedings to the tournament , though competition itself was rewarded with, by in large, positive reviews in the aftermath. Despite this, Roller Hockey was dropped from the next games in Atlanta, with no real concrete talks being made to see it return since.

Surfing- Sydney Isaacs

Alongside baseball, karate, skateboarding, and sport climbing, surfing will be joining the Olympic line-up in 2020 following its unanimous favourable vote at the 129th International Olympic Committee session in 2016. The competition will take place at Shidashita Beach on Japan’s East coast, 40 miles from the capital, Tokyo. The break, known locally as “Shida” is wide and sand-bottomed. It is one of Japan’s most popular surfing destinations and home to WSL pros Takayuki Fukuchi and Masakazu "Zucho" Kono.

Despite plans for the event to take place in the ocean, two new artificial wave pools are being built in Japan, one of them by 11 time world champion Kelly Slater, and the other by lesser known Japanese company Plan Do See Inc. This has sparked some speculation that, should they be finished in time, the decision to hold the event in the ocean may be overturned.

Slater himself has expressed desire to compete in the Olympics but must first qualify. He told the BBC in September "I have won 11 world titles, but that doesn't guarantee me a spot and I haven't won a world title in many years so I will need to get my act together.” Slater also cited a broken foot as an obstacle he would need to overcome in order to qualify in the competition which will feature only 40 participants (20 men and 20 women). Eighteen (10 men, 8 women) contestants will qualify through the 2019 championship tour. The rest will be chosen from 2019/2020 ISA World Surfing Games, the winner of the 2019 Pan-Am Games in Lima, and Japan will be reserved two slots as host nation.


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